The celebrations need not end! And today, Africa, Africa Sports Ventures Group and the rest of the world looks at the legend of "The Queen" herself, Mary Onyali.
The Nigerian sprinter has truly carved a name for herself in the track and field world, establishing several prestigious marks along the way.
Many years since hanging her running spikes, Onyali's legend still lives on. The lady known as 'the Queen of Nigerian sprints' continues to hold the Nigerian 200 meters record.
The legendary sprint queen is also still ranked in the top 10 of the collegiate all time list in both the 100 and 200 meters.
As a young girl growing up in Nigeria, the sport of track and field was never a priority for Onyali.
Her father passed away when she was a very young child and her mother was left to raise her and younger siblings, a sister and two brothers. As the oldest of four children, much of the responsibility of child raising fell strongly upon Mary. Her mother constantly emphasized the importance of their education and to her, everything else was just extracurricular.
Her course could not have been helped by the societal expectations of her times. She lived within a social norm where a female in Nigeria could be everything but an athlete. The belief system was for a woman to go to school and eventually work and focus on marriage and having a family.
Mary was all but not interested in this philosophy – she did not want to succumb to the pressures of marrying and having children.
Her traits of self will and stubbornness found her going against the social norm, and choosing to challenge the stereotypes embedded so deeply in society.
Getting involved in the sport of track and field started at a very young age when sport was part of the curriculum and she found herself competing at almost everything.
She competed in the long jump, high jump and track events and her winning streak was a given. At this level she realized that this was something that she not only enjoyed but was good at. She began to love the competition and the pleasures of winning. She now was drinking, eating and sleeping track.
Onyali-Omagbemi's aha moment came in 1985, when as a junior, she not only competed against but won the 100 and 200 meter sprints against senior women.
This gave her the opportunity now to compete in the African games in Cairo, Egypt, only her second major competition.
Prior to this meet, Mary had trained and competed barefoot on dirt surfaces, and never had the the experience of using starting blocks.
Although 1987 will be remembered as Mary’s year of new beginnings (her first international meet and world championships where she ran an outstanding time of 22.52 in the 200) her most prominent attitude change came in 1988 when she competed in the Olympic games in Seoul, Korea.
Competing in both the 100 and 200 meters, she was elated when she made the 200 meter semi-final and found herself in the same heat with Florence Griffith-Joyner and Grace Jackson.
Mary dedicated all of her time to track and field, she trained diligently and competed where ever there was competition.
In 1990 Mary Won Silver at the World cup in both the 100 and 200 meters and in 1991 won an African games gold medal in the 100. She went on to become a world championships finalist in the 100 and 200 meter dashes.
Mary’s dream for the 1992 Olympics was almost shattered by an immediate foot surgery procedure in December 1991. But she refused to give in to injury. By January 1992, she was back on the track training but with worries that she didn’t have much time to prepare. Mary has always embraced challenge, she hates to be dared and vowed not to listen to negative advice. Well Mary strikes again, she made the Olympic team.
Onyali-Omagbemi's third Olympic experience came in 1996. Leading to the Olympics, she was in her best form ever and was expected to run the best race of her life. But unbeknownst to her, controversy was lurking around. She got a shock of her life when she was said to have tested positive for ephedrine, just five months prior to the start of the Olympic games. Onyali-Omagbemi was then placed on a 3 month suspension.
These minor set backs could have broken a lesser soul, but not Onyali. They only made her resolute and her drive to keep coming back got even stronger, which is what she did in the Olympic year 2000.
Ms. Onyali-Omagbemi’s career has been a glorious track and field rollercoaster. Surviving by her own advice to “do what you do best, the best way you know how and strive for excellence.
Africa, ASVG and the rest of the world thank you Onyali.